When our less-than-less-than-do-nothing Congress returns in September …

US CapitolOur less-than-less-than-do-nothing Congress decided to start its August recess early, failing to address legislative priorities, as they hightailed it out of town on July 14 for a seven-week recess.

Congress will return the day after Labor Day. “D.C. Work Week” days are only scheduled in the House until September 30. The Senate is scheduled to work the first week of October as well. (Schedules are subject to change).

September 30 is an important date that has not received much media attention. It is the end of the Fiscal Year. The House has passed five spending measures and the Senate has passed just three, leaving Congress with unfinished appropriations bills that need to be addressed following the August recess.

There is not enough time for this dysfunctional Congress to actually complete its essential job function on time.

None of the individual appropriations bills have been sent to the President, and it is likely that a stop-gap continuing resolution (CR) spending bill will be needed to fund the federal government past the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

With our less-than-less-than-do-nothing Congressional members wanting to get back to their districts to campaign some more for reelection in October — as if they deserve to be reelected — it is unlikely that the  Republican House Freedom Caucus has enough support to shut down the federal government in an election year stunt, but you never know.

Roll Call reported earlier this month, 5 Issues to Watch When Congress Returns in September:

The most pressing issue lawmakers will face this fall is how to fund the government beyond the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. Since the House has passed only five appropriations bills and the Senate has passed only three — out of 12 — they do not have the time to complete the appropriations process. Both Ryan and McConnell have said they’ll continue to pass as many bills as possible, while acknowledging that a temporary continuing resolution (CR) will likely be necessary to keep the government running.

The debate among House Republicans is whether such a resolution should last through December, while President Barack Obama is still in office, or through March, when there will be a new administration in place. Conservatives have argued that negotiations in lame-duck sessions have not gone well for Republicans. “Trying to get something done with this president is not likely to have a preferential outcome,” House Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores said.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, an appropriations subcommittee chairman, is in favor of finishing the appropriations process by year’s end, regardless of which party prevails in November. He also argued that Republicans have a strong hand now with control of the House and the Senate and that it’s unknown how the election will affect that.

Republicans say they will continue to work on passing individual appropriations bills as a foundation for negotiating a larger appropriations measure later this year or next. That could include a new vote on an energy and water spending bill that failed in May [after a gay rights amendment was passed], Flores said. Senate Democrats blocked a defense spending bill from moving forward in July [“What we don’t want is a Defense-only appropriations and everything else in a CR,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski], and McConnell teed up another procedural vote for when they return.

Other legislative priorities that need to be addressed include:

Zika Funding

Senators will once again face off on the [funding] package when they return after Labor Day. In June, the House adopted a conference report on Zika which allocates $1.1 billion in funds but includes language Democrats find objectionable.

Before the summer recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky set up another procedural vote in September. Democrats have twice blocked the package from moving forward [Democrats have repeatedly criticized Republicans for including language in the conference report that they say would would prevent funds from going to Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico]. They cited a breakdown in negotiations amid GOP divisions and oppose provisions in the package relating to spending cut offsets, the availability of birth control, and insecticide spraying near water sources. Without a way forward and with no one backing down, the vote could fail again.

House Republicans seem even less keen to budge. Speaker Paul D. Ryan said before the recess that Democrats “need to drop politics” and adopt the conference report. [Look in the mirror, Mr. Speaker.]

Gun Control Politicking

Expect House Democrats to keep fighting for votes to keep people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns and to expand background checks. Although it’s unlikely they will succeed, previous Democratic floor protests have delayed legislative business.

Even a GOP-backed bill lacked the support to pass, so leadership indefinitely delayed a vote on the measure. It’s unclear whether Republicans will reintroduce their bill in September or simply try to ignore the issue.

More likely to continue: A bipartisan working group with six House Republicans and six Democrats focused on improving relations between law enforcement and the African-American community. The group held its first meeting shortly before Congress recessed.

The Senate is not likely to take up any gun control measures, having rejected four bills in June. Connecticut Democrat Christopher S. Murphy, who led a nearly 15-hour filibuster forcing the votes, said in a recent interview he will take the issue to the campaign trail.

That’s a departure from recent election years in which Democrats kept mum lest they turn off pro-gun voters in swing states. “We’re only back for a few weeks in September,” Murphy said. “Republicans have made it very clear they’re not giving us any votes on the issue, so I’m going to be traveling the country, working for Democrats who are going to help us make a difference on anti-gun violence.”

Criminal Justice Overhaul

Speaker Ryan said last month that the House will take up legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system in September. He said the Judiciary Committee has already approved four bills and is hoping to mark up two more as part of the package that would come to the floor.

However, the package could be larger. The Judiciary Committee has actually approved 11 bills to overhaul criminal sentencing requirements, the prison and re-entry system and federal criminal procedures.

“These bills ensure that federal laws and regulations effectively and appropriately punish wrongdoers, protect individual freedom, safeguard civil liberties, work as efficiently and fairly as possible, do not impede state efforts, and do not waste taxpayer dollars,” a Judiciary Committee aide said.

The Senate has been working separately on a bipartisan criminal justice overhaul measure, but it’s unlikely to make it to the floor this Congress, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin said in a recent interview. “I just can’t get any signal from McConnell that he’ll call it. … I think he’s afraid of it,” he said.

IRS Commissioner Impeachment

On the last day of the July session, House Freedom Caucus members attempted to force a vote to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen by filing notice of their intent to offer a privileged resolution. Leadership had two legislative days to schedule a vote on the matter. Those two days expired last month since the House met in a few pro forma sessions.

Freedom Caucus members said in July they would likely offer the resolution again when they return. “We’re committed to doing whatever we think has to be done,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the caucus chairman.

North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, a founding member of the caucus, said the group is committed to ensuring that a vote takes place “unless there’s a compelling case that’s made on why that should not happen.”

Finally, the unprecedented “blockade” by Senate Tea-Publicans of President Obama’s nominee for associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, shows signs of a possible retreat. Grassley Opens Door to Lame Duck Action on SCOTUS Nominee:

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley signaled that he is open to possibly acting on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee after the November elections.

Republican leaders have pledged not to take up the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, though a few senators have raised the possibility of a hearing or confirmation vote during a lame duck session between Election Day and when the new Congress is seated in January.

* * *

“[If] we have the election and the majority of the Senate changed their mind about doing it in the lame duck as opposed to Jan. 20, I don’t feel that I could stand in the way of that,” Grassley said at a town hall meeting in Cherokee, Iowa, on Monday. “But I don’t think I can promote that idea.”

The Globe Gazette in Mason City, Iowa, also reported that Grassley made similar remarks at a meeting in Sioux City.

* * *

[S]ome within the GOP, most notably Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, are considering pushing for Garland’s confirmation should Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton win the White House in November. Their thinking is that Clinton would nominate someone who is more liberal than Garland.

McConnell has argued that Garland is not a judicial moderate. But Grassley’s recent comments indicate that the Judiciary Committee could act on its own, hold hearings and vote on the nominee.

Don’t hold your breath on this.

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